It Happened to Me: I Slut Walked in India

Actually, the police had banned us from "walking." I slut congregated in India?

Aug 12, 2011 at 3:02pm | Leave a comment

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I swore I would never write an article which made people horrified with India.

In the past, whenever I met anyone who told me Indian women were mistreated  in their country, I would simply make some snide comment about how ignorant they were.  Whenever someone appeared baffled that I am an Indian woman with a decent education, I would break into my  speech about how India had the first female prime minister for the longest session in parliament, namely Indira Gandhi, and that Indra Nooyi, Indian CEO of Pepsi Co, has been on the Forbes power list at number three.

But then I attended the Slutwalk in New Delhi, organized by 19-year-old Umang Sabharwal. After a police officer in India agitated university students by commenting that girls who were dressed like sluts invited sexual assault, she became convinced that Delhi needed its own version of the campaign, which started in Toronto in April.

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"It is not only about what we wear. And it is not about safety. In fact, that is the whole idea -- why I should need safety for being a girl?” says Sabharwal.

Rape and molestation of women in India is probably highest in a democracy, and one in four rapes in India happen in its capital, New Delhi. The number of rape cases reported has grown an alarming 678 percent since we began keeping statistics 30 years ago; rape is now considered the fastest-growing crime in the country.

Delhi Police commissioner Brijesh Kumar has said that the crime graph will see a rise in 2011.

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Yet the government came out in opposition to the Slut Walk, even female politicians and bureaucrats who simply couldn’t fathom how the usage of a term like "slut" could possibly protect young girls. This is the same establishment who supported Delhi Police chief B. K. Gupta when he said that single working women who are assaulted while returning home at night should blame themselves for living dangerously -- and not the Delhi Police, who are “doing a fine job.”

"Previous slut walks have taken place in English-speaking western countries," says Sabharwal. "Here the change in context is enormous, so we have to modify accordingly."

One such modification was changing the name from Slut Walk to Besharmi Morcha to be "more inclusive" of those who felt strongly opposed to the word. 

Leading up to the big event, government and police opposition called into question whether it would even happen. The most objections made against the walk were that they went against Indian culture and norms, where women were virtuous, silently strong and respected. In the end, Besharmi Morcha happened as scheduled, but police barred the protestors from actually walking, saying it would cause a commotion and could lead to accidents.

Since we were not allowed to walk, Indians did what Indians do best. I saw a lot of dancing and local street theater. Think of it as an Indian flash mob, with singing and chanting.

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Police present at the event seemed to want nothing to do with the social movement, despite being compelled to be present at it.  They got by with the same amount of responsibility they would give to a group of farmers from rural India protesting the rise of fertilizer prices.

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 The walk saw a huge number media personnel as well as expats who actually came wearing "sexy" clothing, as wel as Indian women like 26-year-old Lavdeep Singh, who runs her own brand of clothing.

She says, “I feel so liberated and proud that all these girls have shown up. India is ready to see girls wearing whatever they want and in no way are shorts and skirts even qualified to be stated as provocative clothing. In our country women are molested even in burkhas or in jeans. I am happy to be a part of this movement.”

There was also an outpouring of men at the walk, some of them  taking photos of girls wearing shorts.  Most of the girls attending the walk dressed as they would any other day, proving that the definition of what is slutty or revealing truly lies in the eyes of the beholders.

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Today we live in an India that has fought so many stereotypes and is growing fiscally at the rate which no one would have imagined 50 years from now, with women being active contributors to the rising economy. But have we really grown out of the dark ages, where society associated virtue with clothing? And what kind of society can grow and really develop into a modern marvel where the women are denied basic respect? Not a society which I am so proud to represent at every arena I get.

Yet many women, even those who dress modernly, chose not to participate in the walk. Like Ankita Seth, a 25-year-old from a rich indiustrial family in Delhi. She simply said,” Do you really think it is going to make any difference? I would never go for such a walk. The system doesn’t care, if you dress in short clothes and go out to seedy areas, do you really think this walk is going to make any difference? Men will still stare and pass lewd comments, and the harassment will be all yours to deal with. India has too many bigger problems than to deal with women’s rights. And most Indian women, do not want to change the world, they are happy just getting married and being involved in their own lives.”

I bet Indra Nooyi would be as upset as I am. That being said, there is still a large chunk of Indian women who have are working hard for the rights many of us take for granted.

As Sabharwal states, “The walk gives voices all those girls who do not have the support at home and hence cannot voice their opinions, but will be represented by us who are luckier to have more broad-minded support at home. I understand their plight.”

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